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This Month: Mars and Jupiter: Sights To Behold

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This Month: Mars and Jupiter: Sights To Behold

Mars is now on the far side of its orbit from us, and has dimmed to 2nd magnitude and sets only two hours after the Sun in mid-May. This is a far cry from a year ago when it was much closer to Earth and shone with a fiery brilliance that rivaled even Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that it is much dimmer now, observers with binoculars can locate it to the upper right of the brighter orange-hued star, Aldebaran; the two objects being 6° apart on the evening on Sunday, May 7th.

Mars is still an easy naked-eye object at dusk in the west-northwest. This week it sets shortly after the end of astronomical twilight — just over two hours after sunset. But with each passing day the Sun gains nearly ⅓ a degree on Mars in their eastward race along the zodiac. So within a few weeks the red planet will be sinking deep into bright twilight and will be much more difficult to see.

After you’re done looking at Mars this evening, turn around and direct your attention toward the southeast, where you’ll see a waxing gibbous Moon. And sitting less than 3° to its right will be Jupiter, shining like a beacon and is prominent at nightfall all through May. It was at opposition in early April, so in May it remains very bright and slightly larger than usual in telescopes.

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This month this giant planet drifts even farther away from bluish Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo. Jupiter is high enough to appear sharp in telescopes until well after midnight. A medium-sized instrument can show numerous features in the forever-changing clouds of Jupiter’s face.

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